'Haven't you got anything useful to do?' she asked. She was, I noticed, speaking with an accent that might be mistaken for British, but only by someone who'd never heard the real thing.

Rob looked uncomfortable, and tugged at the ruffled neck of his shirt.

I found myself resenting Mrs. Waterston's immediate assumption that Rob was loitering about with nothing to do. Irrational, since that's just what he would have been doing if I hadn't scared him into action. But then, he was my brother, I might disapprove of his character in private, but I wasn't about to give Mrs. Waterston the privilege.

'He's been helping me unpack,' I said. 'Put the stand for the dagger right in the middle of the table, Rob.'

'Besides, I'm meeting someone here,' Rob said. 'A business meeting.'

'A representative of one of the software companies mat's interested in buying Lawyers from Hell,' I added. 'You know, the computerized version of the role-playing game he invented.'

'Oh. I see,' Mrs. Waterston said. 'By the way, I've been meaning to speak to you about people's accents.'

'Don't worry; I've already given orders about that,' I improvised. 'Since the fair's located behind American tines, we're going to represent colonial crafters, not British ones. The Town Watch has orders to arrest anyone speaking in a British accent and put them in the stocks, as suspected Tories.'

'I see,' Mrs. Waterston said, blinking. 'Well, then, cany on,' she added, in something closer to her normal accent.

She scrutinized Rob once more, as if she still hadn't quite gotten used to the notion of him as capable of inventing something for which grownups would pay good money. Then she turned and sailed off, though not without difficulty. The lane had grown more crowded, and she had to turn sideways every few feet to squeeze her panniers through the crowd. Instead of a galleon in full sail, she looked like a barge being towed through a crowded harbor.

'Wow,' Cousin Horace said, peering around the edge of the booth. 'That was great.'

'So go tell the Town Watch about arresting Tories,' I said. Horace disappeared.

'Thanks,' Rob murmured, his eyes still on Mrs. Waterston's retreating form.

'No problem,' I said. 'I thought the guy wasn't supposed to come till noon, though.'

'I didn't want to miss him if he came early,' Rob said.

Two hours early? Well, it was important to Rob.

'You're welcome to stay as long as you keep out of the customers' way. Or, better yet, make yourself useful. Bring some more stuff out from the back.'

'Of course,' Rob said, nodding vigorously, and disappeared behind the curtain concealing the storage area in the back of our booth.

'Are you really meeting the softwarecompany guy here?' Eileen asked.

'Yes,' Rob said, dragging out one of my metal storage boxes. 'It solves the problem of what to wear.'

Eileen looked puzzled.

'The first time Rob met with a software company, he got all dressed up in a three-piece suit,' I elaborated. 'They all showed up in jeans and T-shirts.'

'And sandals,' Rob said. 'I felt like an idiot. So the next time, I showed up in jeans and a T-shirt.'

'And I bet they were in three-piece suits,' Eileen said.

'Bingo,' I said. 'So when we heard the latest guy was coming today, while the fair was on, I told Rob to meet him at my booth. He can scope out what the guy's wearing, suggest that they meet at someplace less crowded in half an hour, and change into the uniform of the day, whatever that turns out to be.'

'What if he shows up in costume, too?' Rob asked.

'Then drive him up to Colonial Williamsburg and eat at one of the taverns,' I said.

'That might work,' Rob said. 'Thanks. Where should I put these?'

I turned to see him holding up a pink wrought-iron flamingo.

'Back in the box, quick,' I said.

'Why?' he said. He was holding the flamingo out at arms length, inspecting it.

'Put it away, now,' I said, dropping a set of fireplace tongs to race over to the box. 'Mrs. Waterston will explode if she sees it.'

'1 don't see why,' he said, as I snatched the flamingo from his hands. 'It's kind of cool in a weird way. I like it.'

'You would,' I said, opening the case to shove the flamingo inside. 'It's a complete anachronism and –'

'And you've got a lot of them,' Rob said, peering into the case. 'Any chance you'd give me – '


Mrs. Waterston was back. I slammed the lid of the case closed and sat on it, hard, for good measure, ignoring the yelp of pain from Rob, who didn't quite move his hand fast enough to avoid getting nipped by the closing lid. And the small crash to my left, where a customer had dropped* one of Eileen's vases and was now cowering against the curtain at the back of our booth.

'Yes?' I said, ignoring Rob, who was grimacing and shaking his injured hand. 'What's wrong, Mrs. Waterston?' I couldn't quite manage a smile, but I think I achieved a polite, interested expression.

'These people you brought are impossible!' she exclaimed.

'Which one in particular?' I asked. Eileen had gone to the customer's side and was making reassuring noises, I noted. I stood up from the chest, warning Rob, with a glance, not to open it again.

'That female glassblower,' she said. 'She's wearing men's clothes.'

'Merry's giving glassblowing demonstrations at noon, two, and four' I said. 'She can't wear skirts for that.'

'Why on Earth not?'

'Because it would be a serious fire hazard,' I said. 'Burning was one of the leading causes of death for women in the colonial or any other historical era when cooking and heating methods involved open flames. One good spark and these skirts could go up like so much kindling,' I said, shaking my own skirts with resentment. 'So, unless you really like the possibility of Merry reenacting the death of Joan of Arc in front of all the tourists, I suggest you overlook her gender for the time being.'

'She could at least wear proper clothes when she's not demonstrating.'

'I'll see if that's possible,' I said.

'Why wouldn't it be possible?'

'She may not have brought another costume, and it might be hard for her to make any sales at all if she's spending all her time either demonstrating or changing in and out of costume.'

'That's no excuse,' Mrs. Waterston fumed. 'Don't these people realize we're trying for authenticity here? Don't they understand –'

Doesn't she realize that these people are trying to make a living, I thought; and I was opening my mouth to say so, and no doubt precipitate the argument I'd been avoiding for so long, when I realized that Mrs. Waterston was staring, open-mouthed, at something behind my back.

What now, I wondered.

I turned to see what had stopped Mrs. Waterston in midtirade: a slender, twenty-something black man, wearing a turquoise velvet coat, a peach brocade waistcoat, tight black-velvet pants, and enough lace cascading at the throat and sleeves to decorate a bridal gown. From the ornate silver buckles on his shoes to the powdered wig on his head, he was a walking fashion plate from the late eighteenth century. He leaned with one hand on an elegant silver-trimmed black cane, inspecting a pair of my candlesticks through a quizzing glass, with a supercilious look on his face.

'Oh my,' Mrs. Waterston murmured.

'Tad!' I shouted, and rushed over to hug the new arrival.

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